Every February, Kirk Ferentz pokes his head out of the ground, sees his shadow, cracks a couple of jokes, and goes back underground for six more weeks of winter, not to be seen again until the first day of spring practice. That six weeks ended yesterday, with Kirk Ferentz's pre-spring press conference. It's Ferentz, so you can't expect pages of quotable material, but with a little analysis, you can find the information. Following is what we learned yesterday from Captain Kirk:
Cry on My Shoulder: We have known since the immediate aftermath of the Orange Bowl that both starting safeties, Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash, would be out for spring practice, both of whom underwent shoulder surgery in January. All systems go on both players being back in the summer. Backup offensive lineman Kyle Haganman will also miss spring practice due to shoulder injury, as will halfback Adam Robinson; again, no indications of long-term issues. Defensive tackle Steve Bigach had knee surgery this winter and is sitting spring ball out.
Amazingly, just eight months after tearing an ACL in preseason non-contact drills, halfback Jewel Hampton has returned to practice. He's not even wearing a no-contact jersey, though he won't be tackled this spring. Ferentz has indicated he's expected to be back to full strength by June. KF also took time to update the progress of Paul Chaney Jr.'s ACL tear rehab, and everything is moving along swimmingly.
Shoutouts: Ferentz is not one for profuse praise, so when he goes out of his way to compliment tight end Alan Reisner during a question about the offensive line and mention how he's interested in who will eventually be his backup, you know he's confident in Reisner's ability to step into the TE1 spot held by Tony Moeaki since the dawn of western civilization. Same goes for the two holes at linebacker, where Ferentz mentioned Tyler Nielsen, Jeff Tarpinian, and Troy Johnson. Nielsen is already presumably the starter at strongside; Tarp and Johnson, unsurprisingly, will duke it out for the middle linebacker spot. I wouldn't focus on any other names at this point.
...and Omissions: On the flip side of that token, when directly asked a question about a player, Ferentz is not one to completely omit said player from the answer without good reason. So when he was asked how important spring practice is for backup quarterbacks James Vandenberg and John Wienke, mentioned Vandenberg's development as QB2 and its effect on Stanzi, and completely ignored Wienke, that's not a good sign for the omittee. Wienke's been the subject of transfer rumors for a year now, mostly because it would make sense; he was a higher-rated quarterback out of high school, he's clearly #3 on the depth chart (at best), and he had initially pledged to Michigan. Ferentz's statement likely wasn't an accident. There is smoke.
The same principle applies to Woody Orne, the South Dakota transfer who was expected to compete for the right tackle position but did not warrant mention in a lengthly discussion of who might compete for open spots on the offensive line.
Red Alert: He is REALLY worried about this backup tight end situation, probably more than any other position; twice during the press conference he returned to the lack of depth at tight end in wholly unrelated questions. This is probably a good thing. Two years ago, he did this same thing when talking about the offensive line, and it turned out to be a disaster. If his biggest concern is backup tight end, he feels pretty good about the offensive line and cornerback spots (I would include linebacker and halfback here, but he did give extended answers on those positions). I'm happy to take his word on the state of his team, even if it takes some work to deduce what that is.
The Thin Blue Line: With that said, the offensive line is entirely in flux. As is customary, the football staff issued a spring depth chart listing Reiff, Vandervelde, Koeppel, Gettis, and Zusevics as starters from left to right across the front. If you're prognosticating based on past experience, that likely would be your choice. But Ferentz told reporters the depth chart in general, and the line in particular, was "throwing darts." Of course, it's no surprise that there are questions for vacancies created by graduation that are nowhere near being answered, but don't expect any concrete information on the offensive line until the Monday before the opener. It simply won't exist.